Heaven Helps Those Who Help Themselves

There is a popular saying that ‘Heaven Helps Those Who Help Themselves.’ Some other variants of this saying are ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ or ‘the Gods help those who help themselves.’  This saying has been quoted by a lot of people over the years, in a variety of situations, and has been used to encourage people to stand up and do something about their circumstances, rather than wait for solutions to drop out of the sky.

In its various variants, this quote has been used my politicians, motivational speakers, movie makers, writer, and even by criminals. Interesting; the several variants of the saying have been popular in various regions:

In Africa, the popular variant is: “Heaven Helps Those Who Help Themselves.”

In Europe, the popular variant is: “The God’s help those who help themselves.”

While in America, the popular variant is: “God helps those who help themselves.”

Origins Of The Saying

Many users of the quote have the erroneous belief that it is biblical; taken out of a verse from the bible. However, while there are plenty of bible verses that encourage people to be productive, such as Proverbs 12: 11, the saying: ‘Heaven helps those who help themselves’ does not originate from the bible. So where those it come from?

Ancient Greek writings are awash with this sentiment:

The Writer and Philosopher Sophocles, in his work Philoctetes (written around 409 BC), wrote, “No good e’er comes of leisure purposeless; And heaven ne’er helps the men who will not act.”  This may be the earliest reference to this idea.

Euripides, in the short work titled Hippolytus Veiled (written before 428 BC), states: “Try first thyself, and after call in God; For to the worker God himself lends aid.”

Ancient Roman Variants

Publius Ovidius in his work Metamorphoses said “God himself helps those who dare,” this could also be translated: “divinity helps those who dare.” The latin text reads: “audentes deus ipse iuvat.”

The Roman writer and poet Virgil is also credited with saying: Audaces Fortuna Iuvat in his in his work known as the Aeneid (written around c. 19 B.C.). That has been translated to “Fortuna (a goddess) favors the Bold”, or “Fortuna Favors Those Who Dare.”

Present Day Renditions

The French author Jean de La Fontaine is credited as one of those who popularized this saying in the modern time; he adapted some of the ancient fables as “Le chartier embourbé,” and from the fables he draws the moral “Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera.” This translates to “Help yourself and Heaven will help you too.”

The English political writer Algernon Sidney then used the words; “God helps those who help themselves.” This exact wording was later used by Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanack (written in 1736). It is not exactly clear whether he had previous knowledge of Sidney’s work, but he is credited with making it very popular.

Meaning of “Heaven Helps Those Who Help Themselves”

In all the ancient texts where the saying is first made the saying is an exhortation to get up and put in the work so as to get the desired results. In many of the fables, the protagonists are in present and evident danger, and the exhortation is to make the effort to save oneself.  

Further Reading:

Unfortunately, this saying has been used even by criminals who take it as a rallying cry before they venture into their acts of crime; they evidently believe that they are helping themselves by stealing from others.

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